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Vouchers Benefit the Wealthy, Oklahoma Shows

A recent investigation by KFOR Oklahoma News shows that a third of the money spent on their voucher system goes to families making over $150,000.

Oklahoma failed to pass a traditional school voucher system last year but did pass a system for families that sent their children to private schools to receive tax credits. Initially, some lawmakers wanted to put an income limit on the program. A compromise was reached where families making under $150,000 would be given top priority.

According to documents received by KFOR from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, non-priority families received $49 million in tax credits so far, just under a third of the $150 million spent on the program. In addition, non-priority applications made up 40 percent of all approved applications.

The numbers are a stark prophecy about what is likely to happen in Texas if Governor Greg Abbott gets his way next year and passes a voucher system. Supporters of the vouchers have often framed the program as a way for poor families to send their children to pricey, specialty schools.

The reality is that the math on vouchers rarely adds up for poor people. The proposed amount for all voucher plans so far would not cover tuition at the majority of Texas public schools. Instead, it would likely give upper-middle class and wealthy Texans a sizeable discount on institutions they could otherwise afford.

While the Oklahoma data shows that some poor families, even a majority, are using the program, it still represents a massive transfer of public funds back into the pockets of people who need the help the least. People above the $150,000 priority limit in Oklahoma make at least three times the median income of the state.

One report by the National Coalition for Public Education shows that most voucher recipients were families who were going to send their children to private schools anyway, meaning that the programs do not really create new opportunities so much as benefit people who already have them.  

In Arkansas, the Department of Education found that 95 percent of voucher recipients had never attended public school. It’s slightly better in Florida, where 87 percent never attended public school, but less than a third of people using them came from households making $55,000 a year or less. In Ohio, when wealthy families were allowed to use vouchers, low-income household participation in the program fell by nearly half.

From the beginning, opponents of Abbott’s voucher program have called it a way to move taxpayer funds from public schools into the hands of private Christian schools, mostly in wealthy urban and suburban areas. Further data shows that it’s also a tax cut or discount for people who least need the help, rather than something that lifts low-income households out of bad schooling situations.

Nationwide, the data makes it clear that poor families aided by vouchers are purely a byproduct. The people who get the most out of it are economically comfortable.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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